- Published on Thursday, 17 January 2013 11:04
- Written by ALYSSA QUIRICO
Understanding the gentle giant
Angel's silver collar jingles against her pink dog tag as she kicks up snow. She runs toward the two white and brown shih tzus who have just entered with their owner into the off-leash area down the street from our Beddington house in N.W. Calgary.
Angel approaches the dogs less than half her size excitedly, wagging her tail back and forth and panting with excitement at the middle-aged woman's feet. She desperately wants to be pet by this new person.
"Don't worry, she's really friendly. She just loves little dogs," I say to her.
This is a phrase I recite without thought. It is an immediate reflex when my nearly 90-pound three-year-old pit bull approaches people and small dogs. It is not a warning, but a defence of my girl that really means, "please don't judge her, all she wants is to play."
While the two shih tzus take to Angel's excited but gentle demeanour immediately, the owner is a bit hesitant as she reaches down to stroke her short black and white hair. "Oh, she's so nice and energetic!" she says with surprise.
It is never the dogs who are surprised that Angel isn't acting aggressively towards them; dogs don't judge each other based on breed, only on the energy they put forward in their approach. It is the humans who are surprised and often ask me if she really is a pit bull because they are in such disbelief. Even more, her name usually generates a chuckle. I've heard it a million times: "she doesn't look like no Angel!" Oh, but she is.
Defining the pit bull
As a pit bull owner, I find myself defending my dog's breed all the time, mostly due to lack of understanding.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary online defines a pit bull as "a dog (as an American Staffordshire terrier) of any of several breeds or a real or apparent hybrid with one or more of these breeds that was developed and is now often trained for fighting and is noted for strength and stamina." It also notes that the term may be used to mean "an aggressive and tenacious person."
"Knowing how to read a dog's body language and respecting its space and canine behaviours is 'safer for everyone.'"
- Barbara Walmer, department head of behaviour at The Calgary Humane Society.
Chako Pit Bull Rescue lists the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier as a few of the breeds that are often referred to as pit bulls.
I admit that the words "fighting" and "aggressive" are what I thought of when my boyfriend told me he wanted a pit bull two years ago. When I would tell friends and family that we were considering it, they would say things like, "You can't trust those dogs" or "You never know, one day they could just snap." I went back and forth constantly, not knowing what to believe and worried about owning a dog that I perhaps couldn't trust or handle.
And when I met Angel at only one year old, everything changed. It was love at first lick.
"She really likes you," her then-owners said to me as I was crouched down in their driveway, level with Angel's puppy dog eyes. When she came home with us the next day, I made the decision to make her the best that she could be.
For as long as we have her, Angel, my boyfriend and I will have to face the judgements and fears of others based on how she is defined.
Refocusing to find a solution
On Jan.12, the Calgary Herald online reported that Calgary bylaw officials laid multiple charges against four dog owners in relation to "two serious pit bull attacks" that have occurred in recent weeks, one of which was fatal for a Pomeranian involved.
Photos of stitched-up canine victims above stories detailing the attacks seem to be flooding online media since the incidents occurred. When searching "Calgary pit bulls attack" in Google, nearly 40 stories result in only the first four pages, all published within the last two weeks. The number of written comments from the public is growing each day. While many pit bull supporters have posted stories and testimonies of their pets, others scrutinize them using words such as "evil", "aggressive" and "vicious."
As a dog owner, I feel for the dogs and people involved in these incidents. It is safe to say that any dog could react negatively if provoked, just as any person can be when pushed to their limits.
Luckily, I have never been in such a situation with Angel. My biggest issue with her is controlling her whining when she is not the centre of attention. Of course, she is not perfect. She barks and whines at the odd dog as we walk past yards, but not usually unless another dog is doing the same. It is how they communicate. With one command, she settles. I really think this is because she has spent so much time around other dogs and people, so she is comfortable. If she does not like the behaviour of
another dog or person, she just walks away.
I strongly believe that more attention should be paid to the owners and most importantly, to why these situations happened in the first place. City officials and the media should help take the public's attention away from these fearful dogfights. If they could instead bring their attention toward asking why this happened and what can be done to prevent it, perhaps we can find a solution and avoid more hurt in the future.
Barbara Walmer, department head of behaviour at the Calgary Humane Society, says that making generalizations about any type of dog "can be a concern." She says that focusing on educating the public about how to approach a dog is key. She stresses that knowing how to read a dog's body language and respecting its space and canine behaviours is "safer for everyone."
Thankfully, we live in a province that does not currently have a ban on pit bulls. Ward 10 Ald. Andre Chabot said to the Calgary Herald, "It may be pit bulls this week, but it could be German shepherds the next. So which breed do you ban? Where does it end?"
And not only are there stereotypes about pit bulls, but also about their owners. This summer, my boyfriend and I had a terribly difficult time renting a house. One landlord admitted after meeting us that we were not what he had imagined when he thought of pit bull owners. Instead, he said that he pictured a young guy covered in tattoos and piercings wearing a white tank top and baggy jeans.
We definitely do not fit this description. My boyfriend does not have any tattoos or piercings and wears well fitting clothes. At just over five feet tall, I have had my fair share of stares as I walk Angel with ease.
So when it comes to raising a dog of any kind, nurture can override nature. In the words of the infamous pit bull advocate and dog trainer Cesar Millan, exercise, proper discipline and affection will always create a happy and balanced dog. Walmer says that people need to consider these responsibilities and take them seriously before owning a dog. She adds that ample time and effort needs to be invested by owners into their dogs to ensure that they lead the best life possible.
At the end of the day, there really is nothing better than coming home to my gentle giant for a long snuggle on the couch.
Correction: In the second last paragraph, Cesar Millan was incorrectly spelled. The Calgary Journal regrets the error.
What do you think?
I've dog-sat for two massive pit bulls now, and I must say that they were the most cuddly, loving, and loyal dogs I have taken care of. I've seen many at the dog park, and they are so well behaved! They are just strong and energetic like you mentioned, and little dogs can get a bit scared by some of them if the pit bulls are exerting an intense energy!
When you hear about Pit Bull attacks, you can nearly ALWAYS trace it back to the owners.If you don't know how to properly care for a pit bull - OR ANY breed for that matter - it can have behavioural issues.
In the 70s, dobermans were the "bad" dogs, In the 80s it was German shepherds, in the 90s it was rottweilers... Now, it's pit bulls. Such a shame. When will people start to blame the owners and not the breed?
A good article from Cesar Millan on how pit bulls came to have such a bad reputation - http://www.cesarsway.com/dogbehavior/basics/How-Did-Pit-Bulls-Get-a-Bad-Rap
I have a pit bull myself, his name is Bronson and he's the sweetest, biggest baby ever! I am also constantly telling people - it's okay he's friendly, he just wants to be pet! I am constantly defending the breed as well!!
So again, thank you for such a well written article about such a wonderful breed :)
Thank you again, Belinda
Keera was an Ontario rescue dog and came to me from a awful background near as anyone can tell.
But she us the most loving,loyal cuddler dog.
She thinks she is a lapdog, but loves to cuddle on the sofa and
Sleep with me. Truck rides and going to work with Dad is what she loves.
Pitbulls are the current favorite demon dogs for the media to sensationalize and put all of this breed in a bad light.
I would rather have my Keera girl over any other thing.
She is a part of my family and will be so forever.